Last night, the San Francisco Giants’ quest to repeat got a heck of a lot tougher. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, star backstop Buster Posey suffered a horrific injury, fracturing his left ankle in a collision at home plate (don't click that link if you've got a weak stomach) in the top of the 12th inning of last night’s ballgame against the Marlins. Scott Cousins scored the eventual winning run on the play, but that was the least of the World Champs’ concerns. Though the play certainly wasn’t dirty, many (including Posey’s agent) have called for the elimination of such plays in baseball in order to protect catchers, who too often are blindsided when plays at the plate occur. Cousins (in a bizarre twist, a Bay Area native who played his college ball for the University of San Francisco), for his part, immediately checked on Posey after the play and felt extremely remorseful afterward.
Incredibly, there’s still a chance Posey could play again this season. Giants’ in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez tweeted just hours ago that manager Bruce Bochy told her that based on Posey’s MRIs he thinks Posey will return by the end of the campaign. She later tweeted that trainer Dave Groeschner predicts 6-8 weeks of rehab, although it could be more. Whether Posey makes it back by the end of 2011 or not, that’s a huge hole in the Giants’ lineup that leaves Giants’ executives and fans asking; “What do we do now?”
The way I see it, there are two main options. The Giants’ backup catcher. Eli Whiteside, has taken over the position for the time being. While Whiteside is an excellent backup, he’s not an everyday starter on a contending team. The Giants have already begun looking for replacement options, though as the Red Sox could tell them, the catching market is quite thin. The Nationals are one of few teams with any sort of catching depth, as Pudge Rodriguez has been relegated to bench duties while Wilson Ramos continues his strong rookie year at the plate. Ramos, acquired from the Twins in exchange for Matt Capps at last year’s trading deadline, was a fairly highly regarded prospect, and has been living up to the hype thus far. The Giants have already contacted the Nats about acquiring Pudge, which is probably the best of several mediocre options. Otherwise, they could always attempt to convince Bengie Molina to strap on the tools of ignorance and delay his retirement, but regular readers know how I feel about Molina.
If they acquire Rodriguez (or another catcher), the Giants will be at a crossroads. I don’t do moral victories. If the Giants don’t believe they can make the playoffs, my general strategy is to trade any player who won’t be able to help them do so in the future, as in my view the difference between going 81-81 and 75-87 is essentially nothing. If the current guys on expiring contracts won’t get you to the promised land, move them to contenders in exchange for prospects and younger players who could help produce a winning ballclub in the future.
However, this would seem to be quite the waste, especially considering the nearly unparalleled rotation the team currently boasts. I believe that, given the strength of their pitching, the Giants still have a chance to get close to a playoff spot, despite the removal of the centerpiece from their already anemic (170 runs scored, worst in the NL) offense. With a few savvy adds at the trade deadline, this team could still contend, and try to make a run at a repeat especially if Posey is able to return for the stretch run and postseason. However, this will require the addition of some offense to at least replace part of what they lose with the elimination of the defending rookie of the year. Though Jose Reyes to San Francisco rumors already abounded before Posey’s injury, I believe the Giants’ front office should now be considering acquiring Reyes more concretely than ever. With the likely price tag of 2009 first-round (6th overall) draft pick Zach Wheeler, a Reyes rental would cost a bundle. However, Reyes would solidify the team at a position in which they’ve struggled mightily. Mike Fontenot, Emmanuel Burris, and offseason add Miguel Tejada have combined for a total of 0.1 WAR at short, tying the Giants with the Reds for the least production from the position of any National League team. Meanwhile, Reyes’ 2.5 WAR is tops among shortstops by a large margin. Reyes, 28, has upped his game in this, his contract year, as his strikeout rate has dropped below 10% for the first time in his career and his .366 OBP would set a new high for a single season should he sustain that level of production. The Mets seem to be teetering on the edge of entering full rebuild mode with Sandy Alderson at the helm, and moving Reyes would be the logical place to start. By acquiring the star shortstop, the Giants could also set themselves up as the favorites to sign him to a long-term deal when he hits free agency next offseason, although acquiring him now would by no means ensure that Reyes would remain by the Bay long-term.
With Reyes in the fold, the Giants chances of emerging victorious in the mediocre NL West would improve significantly, especially if top prospect Brandon Belt can begin living up to his potential in his second big-league tour of duty this season and Aubrey Huff can turn his season around. Andres Torres recently returned to the team after a DL stint following an early-season Achilles injury, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval is likely to rejoin the team in the near future. If the club can add an offensive piece to bolster their run producing power and provide a little more support for their outstanding starting staff, this could very well be a playoff team, even without its Sophomore stud. If Posey does make it back by the end of the season and contributes as even a fraction of his former self, such an acquisition could position them well for another deep playoff run.
What the Giants can’t do, however, is nothing. At this point, my main fear is that the team is in no-man’s-land; not bad enough to instigate a full-on rebuild, but not good enough to seriously contend for October baseball. The franchise can take a second to regroup, decide on a course of action, and see what the division standings look like a little closer to the trade deadline in slightly more than two months. However, at that time, they need to determine whether they are buyers or sellers, and act decisively in one of those two roles.